Table of Contents:
- (I) What Is Depression, Where Is It Most Common & Why Should We Care?
- (II) 10 Reasons Why People Living in Rich Countries Are More Depressed than People Living in “Developing” Countries
- (III) Money Isn’t Necessarily Evil
(I) What Exactly Is Depression, Where Is It Most Common & Why Should We Care?
GDP Per Capita & Depression
For almost 100 years, the most often used measurement of the “success” of a country has been how high that country’s GDP is in relation to other countries’. With that logic, “successful” countries with high GDPs per capita should have the happiest people in the world, right? Money buys happiness, does it not?
Well, as it turns out, that doesn’t really appear to be the case. Some of the countries with the highest GDPs per capita in the world also happen to be some of the countries with the highest rates of depression. When examining data, you’ll notice that there’s often a positive correlation between how rich a country is and how depressed its people are. Shouldn’t it be the opposite?
The Richest Country in the World Is Also the Most Depressed
The rates of depression in many developed countries have been increasing rapidly, especially among young people. If young people are the future, and more than 15% of young people in a country are clinically depressed, then what does that say about the future of a country?
Furthermore, roughly 13% of people in America currently take anti-depressants. It’s not really natural that that many people need to artificially rewire their brain chemistry just to make existing in their country slightly tolerable. What does that reveal about the psychological and social environment of the place that they are living in?
Furthermore, Aside from depression completely destroying lives and turning what should be fulfilling human experiences into tormented, tragically wasted existences, depression is also terrible for the economy.
The economic burden of depression on a society is staggering. It’s estimated that pre-covid, the burden depression put on the American economy amounted to $326 billion per year. This includes medical costs, costs of addressing and treating comorbidities resulting from depression (substance abuse, anxiety, etc), loss of productivity (through sick days and being a less-efficient worker) and suicide (the ultimate loss of productivity). I would add that a large number of depressed people just picking up shop and permanently moving to another country is another big hit to the economy in terms of loss of productivity.
Everyone in the World Gets Sad
To clarify, we’re not just talking about people feeling sad. Every person, in every country in the world, gets sad, feels grief and goes through problems; it’s an essential part of being human. What we’re talking about is actual clinical depression (Major Depressive Disorder), which literally causes physical damage to the brain. So what’s the difference between sadness and depression?
Sadness is the mind’s inherent reaction to disappointment, rejection, ending or loss. Depression is when you don’t even feel emotions anymore because you’ve psychologically anesthetized them.
Sadness, helps you grow as a human being and eventually reach a point of acceptance, self-awareness, and deep contentment. Depression is when the only time you ever feel content and at peace is in the 2 seconds between waking up and your first coherent thought.
Sadness is an evolutionary adaptation with one function of encouraging people to come together to give emotional support to each other. Depression is where you don’t even have the energy or clearheadedness to have a conversation with someone.
Sadness can be cathartic and a way to feel invigored and re-energized after. Depression is constantly feeling completely physically and mentally drained no matter how much sleep you get.
Sadness, once resolved, can be a way to gain wisdom and become a more clear-sighted individual. Depression is where you’re so foggy that you can’t think rationally or make decisions about anything.
Sadness is feeling bad in the moment, but understanding that the feeling is temporary and that tomorrow is another day; the future is full of possibilities. Depression is suffocating feelings of hopelessness, like there’s no way that things could ever possibly improve, that you always have felt this way and always will feel this way.
Sadness is natural. Depression is not natural. What I’ve observed from spending half of my adult life in rich countries, and the other half in “developing” countries, is that depression is primarily a man-made construct; it is the product of living in (and especially growing up in) “modern” civilization. It is a phenomenon usually reserved for richer and more “developed” countries.
Depression is an objective chemical imbalance in the brain; however, I would argue that that chemical imbalance is primarily the effect rather than the cause.
So why exactly is it that people living in rich countries are so much more depressed than people living in “developing” countries? Don’t rich countries have more advanced technology, medicine and knowledge to easily treat depression?
Well, what “modern” medicine in rich countries has been doing to treat depression (medication and/or $100-per-hour vague conversations) hasn’t really been working too well if you look at the increasing rates of depression in the statistics. However, the antidepressant industry (an over $15 billion per year global industry) and the mental health industry (a $383.31 billion per year global industry) are making a lot of money off of “treating” depression, so they’re probably just going to keep doing what they’re doing.
So what then? The environments of rich countries are manufacturing depression into people and are failing to get them out (but not failing to take their money). A radical, extreme change in perspective is required. It’s necessary to realize some harsh truths that “modern” society won’t acknowledge because they’re not nice truths, and because they make “modern” society look unfavorable.
The following 10 reasons may seem cold and insensitive toward people who are battling with depression, but the greatest way to defeat an enemy is to unemotionally, pragmatically and unbiasedly look at and understand an enemy (and its origin), even if it’s ego-bruising to do so.
Sometimes, you just gotta call a spade a spade. I know I wish I had fully understood the 10 reasons on this list back 17 years ago.
Here are 10 reasons why people in rich countries are more depressed than people in “developing” countries:
(II) 10 Reasons Why People in Rich Countries Are More Depressed than People in “Developing” Countries:
1) Consumerist Culture Vs. Authentic Culture
Mostly as a result of runaway consumerism trying to sell people images of what they should be like, people in rich countries are less likely to accept themselves for who they are. Advertisements, movies and music bombard people with incessant propaganda of what the ideal man or woman is.
When people can’t live up to the unrealistic expectations set by the media, it can cause diminished self-esteem. Companies want you to feel inadequate until you buy their products. They try to convey the idea that people who buy their products are superior human beings to people who don’t.
As a result, some people end up trying to play the role of an “ideal” man or woman in order to gain acceptance from peers, friends or partners. In the process, they lose touch with themselves and who they really are.
Relatedly, people in rich countries almost always also need to play a role while working. I’d estimate that over 95% of people in rich countries interact with people differently while they are working compared to when they are interacting with people in their free time.
Not being able to be true to who you are can be detrimental to mental health; having to act in a manner that is not in line with your core values is going to cause inner turmoil.
Furthermore, if you feel like you always need to put on a persona when interacting with others, then you are not going to receive the psychological benefits of having a real conversation, especially if everyone else is also playing a fake role. At that point, people aren’t really much different from the AI (Artificial Intelligence) in a Playstation RPG (Role Playing Game), just preprogrammed to act friendly and say certain lines in a script. This is where genuine human connection dies.
“Developing” countries generally haven’t been quite as completely invaded by advertising, consumeristic brainwashing and jobs that require playing forced roles. People in “developing” countries are more likely to retain their natural character without being fooled into trying to become a false image that the media has laid out.
One reason for this resistance to consumerism is that people in “developing” countries are more likely to be strongly connected to their authentic culture, a culture that has lasted for thousands of years. Holding onto authentic culture can act as a shield against the invasive forces of fake consumeristic “culture”.
Preserving and celebrating one’s original heritage can be beneficial for increasing mental wellness and developing a stronger sense of self and community. As well, it can serve as a way to defend against forms of harmful narrative manipulation often employed by rich countries. This was partially the reason for the creation of the African-American festival “Kwanzaa” in 1966.
As a case study of how important retaining original culture is, one of the reasons why Native Americans have such high rates of depression and substance abuse today is because their cultures were heavily damaged by the arrival of rich countries to the Americas. Preserving cultural heritage can be a crucial key to resisting depression that would be otherwise be brought on by rich countries trying to destabilize a group of people.
To be fair, there are many rich countries in the world (especially in Europe) that have vibrant cultures built from thousands of years of unique history. However, consumerist “culture” in rich countries generally apathetically steamrolls over top of authentic, true forms of culture.
2) Competition & Exploitation Vs. Cooperation & Supportiveness
In individualistic, competitive countries (most rich countries), other people are perceived as adversaries and as obstacles to your own success and happiness. People step on and exploit each other economically and socially to get ahead, and that is seen as normal and healthy for society.
This way of thinking can be seen socially even from a young age when children and teenagers relentlessly bully each other. An extreme outcome of this social dog-eat-dog mentality is when someone decides to bring a gun to school.
Even among friends, in competitive, individualistic societies, people generally gossip about each other and secretly hope that others fail. This is why there are so many haters in rich countries.
Additionally, strangers don’t trust each other or interact with each other. You may go weeks in a rich country without even seeing a genuine smile, besides when someone is required to smile for their job, is trying to sell you something or is trying to use you for something.
Being surrounded by fake people who insult, bully, exploit, sabotage and wish ill upon each other is something that is going to contribute to developing depression, not surprisingly.
On the other hand, in many “developing” countries, emphasis is placed on the community and social harmony much more so than in most rich countries. This emphasis on community and cooperation can be seen most predominantly in most Asian and Latin American cultures, as well as many African cultures as well.
In “developing” countries, people are much more likely to encourage others and genuinely hope that others succeed. As well, people are just all-around nicer and friendlier to each other, including to strangers. Furthermore, this friendliness and kindness is usually sincere, there generally isn’t any ulterior motive behind it.
Naturally, the more supportive (genuine) human connections someone has, the less likely they are to become depressed. Having people truly care about your wellbeing and truly want to see you succeed can be a massive buffer against depression.
Possibly more impactful is the fact that helping other people can actually be massively beneficial to one’s own mental health. People in cooperative cultures are more likely to help and to be helped.
Exceptions to this would be Japan and South Korea, which are two collectivist countries with high rates of depression. However, I would argue that the reason for this is because they are two collectivist countries that were the earliest to become “modernized” (Westernized).
3) Pressure to Stand Out in an Individualistic Society
In an individualistic society (which is almost every rich country in the world aside from China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore), everyone is trying to stand out somehow and compete for attention. People can sometimes subliminally put themselves on a destructive path as a kind of subconscious cry for recognition of individuality.
Everyone has their unique story and their specific problems, for sure. But fixating on these problems (and problems of the past) and using them as a way to define your identity is going to be conducive to developing depression.
Furthermore, when someone feels like they are completely different and special, like nobody else has any problems like them, then it’s going to isolate them from feeling connected to the world. The reality is, everyone has problems; you don’t need to make your problems become your entire identity as a human being.
Extreme examples of this type of phenomenon can sometimes be seen in some toxic codependent relationships.
I’m not saying that people with depression are faking it to get attention; I’m really not. But, individualistic societies and their media often forcibly encourage people (especially young people) to desperately stand out in any way possible. Paradoxically, people are spurred to stand out in order to fit in.
In “developing” countries, and in collectivist countries, people are less likely to feel the need to try and prove to the world how different and unique they are. People are less likely to wallow in their problems; they understand that everyone has similar problems. Furthermore, they are more likely to take the time to appreciate other people’s problems, because they are not so absorbed in their own problems.
4) Wealth and Narcissism
Studies have proven a link between wealth and levels of narcissism. Often, rich people truly do think that they’re better than everyone else.
However, it must be said that in recent years social media has been encouraging everyone around the world to behave like an egomaniac regardless of social status or income. Like an equal opportunity employer, social media has leveled the playing field and given everyone in the world a fairer chance to become a self-absorbed narcissist. Well done social media.
Although almost every country in the world has social media now, rich countries are the ones boldly leading the charge right off the edge of the cliff into the shallow pit of conceited vanity below.
Right now, narcissism from people in “developing” countries develops primarily from people trying to mimic and copy the people in rich countries that they see on social media. Trickle-down narcissism.
Behaving like a narcissist ironically usually actually cuts people off from the psychological benefits of interacting with others. They become less capable of empathizing with others because they are so preoccupied with themselves.
Furthermore, narcissistic people tend to see themselves as the center of the universe, so thus, problems affecting them will seem more harrowing and earth-shattering than they would for somebody who is more attached to reality and has a broader perspective.
Narcissists want to psychologically take and take recognition, empathy and attention, but they don’t want to give any. They want people to help them, but they don’t want to attempt to help (or understand) others. This is actually maladaptive, as human beings have evolved in a way that helping others actually relieves feelings of depression and anxiety in ourselves.
Unfortunately, as mentioned above, narcissism is slowly transmitting throughout the world, seeping through phones. However, people in developing countries still display much healthier levels of humility than you would ever find in a rich country. People in developing countries are less likely to think they are better than everyone else; money hasn’t gone to their heads.
5) Overly-Privileged Upbringings
Overly-privileged children of rich parents may go through their entire formative years without encountering any real source of adversity that they need to overcome. As a result, they don’t get the opportunity to form independent problem-solving skills or develop their own sense of self-confidence.
When they do eventually encounter the real world and real-world problems, they aren’t as equipped with a psychological toolkit to solve these problems. Rather than see problems as a necessary part of human existence, as challenges to overcome and as opportunities to grow, they may instead perceive problems as the universe unfairly targeting them with insurmountable tragedies.
A child constantly throwing massive temper tantrums because he can’t play with his favorite toy anymore is a sign that terrible coping mechanisms are developing; this is depression in its infancy.
It would be beneficial for that child to understand early on that not everything can go perfectly their way all of the time, and that they can’t always be right.
Later in life, there are often more problems. Teenagers coming from affluent families are 1.5-2.5x more likely to develop depression, anxiety and substance abuse issues.
Depression often eventually affects young people with financial cushions who don’t need to earn money. They don’t have many vital responsibilities and are less likely to experience the value of a hard day’s work (physically or mentally). They’re less motivated to succeed (because they have money already) and therefore won’t have as many opportunities to realize personal growth resulting from striving toward and achieving something.
It’s like playing a video game and activating all of the cheat codes. You didn’t earn any of the stuff you have; there was no challenge to overcome. The game isn’t fun anymore; it has lost its meaning.
For obvious reasons, in “developing” countries there are fewer phenomena of spoiled children.
Especially In societies influenced by Confucianism, children are generally well-behaved, humble and respectful towards adults and teachers; they are more open to listening and learning, and less prone to arguing or being defiant. This type of attitude will generally foster a disposition less susceptible to depression later in life (and it also produces very intelligent people).
6) Modern Technology is Wiring People’s Brains in Maladaptive Ways
In “modern” society, the mind of a person is wired to have an attention span less than that of a goldfish (really). Just look at the extreme, overnight popularity of Tik-Tok as the epitome of this point. For many people now, if something doesn’t stimulate their brain to release a hit of dopamine within a few seconds, then they rapidly move on to the next thing.
The brain of a person addicted to their phone and the brain of a person addicted to cocaine go through the exact same chemical process. It’s easy to imagine how being addicted to cocaine could contribute to depression; how about being addicted to a phone?
Although addiction to mobile devices affects all people, the effects are most severe on young malleable minds. In rich countries, it’s not uncommon to have kids from even 3 years old with their faces in phones or tablets. Even more concerning is that they’ll display withdrawal symptoms (throwing tantrums) if their drug (phone) is taken away.
This is an extraordinarily effective way of wiring the brain to get addicted to stimulation. When that stimulation is absent, the mind will feel restless and discontent, just like the mind of a drug addict. Furthermore, the child will fail to develop the core human skills (especially social skills) that would allow them to healthily cope with life’s natural difficulties.
Although having a 3-second attention span may be beneficial for rapidly processing a variety of different pieces of random and unrelated pieces of information, it is not conducive to finding inner-contentment, gaining wisdom through contemplation or just generally appreciating the miracle of life that comes with living in the moment and being present in your surroundings.
Finally, previously in rich countries, children would only bully each other for 6 hours a day. Thanks to social media, they can now bully each other for 24 hours a day. High five Facebook.
Depression and mobile device addiction are interrelated, just as depression and substance addiction are interrelated. That’s also not to mention that social media often wants you to constantly feel afraid or outraged, as that type of content is generally what gets the most engagement.
Although addiction to mobile devices and the zombification of humanity is a worldwide epidemic, in developing countries, children are more likely to grow up in reality and spend more time associating with real human beings, especially their families.
For families in “developing” countries who maybe can’t afford to buy their 5-year-old a phone or tablet, the child will just have to entertain themself in other ways, such as by communicating face to face with other children, playing outside or engaging with family members, all of which are more likely to forge a mind more resilient to depression in the future.
7) Lack of Familial Connection
In rich countries, people live in monster houses with a computer in each room, spending the least amount of time possible in the same room together. Not only this, but parents are so busy in the rat race that they are unable to instill real values in their children; children are raised by the media.
From a young age, people in a rich society are encouraged to think that they are incredibly unique, special individuals who know everything. Therefore, teenagers hating parents is seen as a natural part of adolescent development in many rich countries. On the other end, sending elderly people away to nursing homes is the norm in rich countries.
In “developing” countries, on the other hand, family members are often in the same room together (because their home doesn’t have 20 rooms) and interact together. There’s not really that trendy tendency for kids to hate and disrespect their parents. Grandparents generally live with their children and are taken care of by their children. Thus, grandparents are often much more directly involved in raising grandchildren.
8) Lack of Challenge, Purpose or Meaning
In order to stay occupied, the human mind always needs a challenge or adversity to overcome. It’s what gives life meaning; no story would be interesting or meaningful if there wasn’t an opposing force of some kind to overcome or some sort of ideal goal to reach. This is one reason why most people spend a lot of time following and getting passionate about sports, politics, careers or hobbies. Personally, I used to play a lot of video games to occupy my mind; now, I write.
Sometimes, people who don’t have too many real challenges in their lives will invent problems out of nothing in order to keep the mind occupied, making mountains out of molehills. Too much poorly spent free time and too idle of a mind can be incubators for depression.
Wilderness therapy (adventure therapy) is a type of therapy used in some countries as a way to treat depression and other disorders such as substance abuse (depression’s cousin) or anxiety (depression’s alter ego) in adolescents. It’s an opportunity for people to get away from, and recover from, “modern” society.
Wilderness therapy is found to be effective as it gives people a real, tangible goal or a mission to accomplish, such as climbing a mountain, learning survival skills, cooking meals over a fire or going on multiday treks. It gives the mind something to conquer. Additionally, overcoming challenges such as these increases people’s self-esteem, which can boost resilience against depression. Exercise and being in nature are also incredibly powerful in keeping depression away.
In developing countries, people usually have enough natural challenges to keep their minds occupied as it is. They don’t need to go out of their way to seek additional challenges and they don’t need to subconsciously create or exaggerate problems.
9) Depression Is Often a Luxury Not Everyone Can Afford
This one is going to sound harsh, but it’s a truth that is important to realize.
Most people in “developing” countries can not afford to spend time or energy being depressed. There are fewer safety nets in place to catch them if they are not able to make enough money to provide for themselves and their families.
As a result, people in developing countries focus intently on working hard. Psychologically shutting down due to depression is not really an option; that thought never even gets the opportunity to begin to gain traction in people’s subconscious minds.
The last and final time I was depressed, I felt extremely depressed until I started seriously running out of money in a “developing” country without any safety net for myself. I realized that I didn’t have the option of being depressed anymore. The innate human will to survive often truly can overpower depression; it can if the depression hasn’t already progressed too far anyway.
When starting to feel depressed, the mind naturally gravitates toward isolating, staying at home, brooding and being unproductive. Watching movies all day is comfortable, avoiding people is comfortable, drinking alone is comfortable.
However, people in “developing” countries are more likely to be obligated to get out and make money because they may not have financial support from large savings, social services, parents or a husband/wife. As a result of going out and working, they interact with others, they feel the sense of accomplishment of a hard day’s work, they get sunlight, they get exercise and they are more likely to feel a connection with the world. They wouldn’t obtain any of these buffers to depression if they were at home with the curtains closed.
10) Physical Factors: Diet, Obesity & Sunlight
Diet & Lack of Nutrition
The typical diet of most developed countries is heavy with fast food; fast food has been found to be directly linked to depression. Furthermore, the typical Western diet severely lacks Omega 3 fatty acids, which are vital for brain health.
In developed countries, most of the food comes from factories; processed food is generally just empty calories. It doesn’t contain the same level of essential nutrients that fresh food contains.
Having a poor diet contributes to depression, and having depression contributes to a poor diet.
In America, 42.4% of adults are obese (and there’s definitely a lot of fat kids runnin’ round too). Other rich countries aren’t quite at that level of obesity, but how rich a country is is generally correlated with how many obese people are in that country.
Obesity and depression often build off of one another. People who are obese are more likely to feel physically unwell, which can contribute to depression. Obesity can also lead to poor self-esteem and isolation, other risk factors for depression. In the reverse direction, depression sometimes can cause overeating and/or unhealthy eating.
Lack of Sunlight
Sunlight is important for our physical and mental health. Among other things, sunlight increases serotonin levels in the brain (depressed people generally don’t have enough serotonin). As well, many people just inherently find cold, dark places as depressing.
SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a type of depression caused primarily by not being exposed to enough sunlight; it is much more prevalent in countries with long, dark winters. This definitely is something that can play a factor in levels of depression for countries that are quite far from the equator (usually richer countries).
However, Australia breaks this rule as it is one of the most depressed countries in the world, yet is one of the sunniest places in the world. I’d imagine that’s probably because Australia is the second most individualistic country in the world.
(III) Money Isn’t Necessarily Evil
Money is not necessarily bad. In fact, poverty (not being able to afford basic needs) is a major risk factor for depression. It’s worth noting, however, that the amount of money required to be able to afford basic needs in a “developing” country is a small fraction of the amount required in a rich country.
Having wealth isn’t a bad thing. Being rich is not directly going to cause somebody to have depression. Money can, in fact, cause feelings of contentment and soothe worries, as well as open doors to experience new opportunities and grow as a person.
However, massive wealth inequality and the associated feelings of social isolation, malaise and guilt from having significantly more money than people around you can contribute to internal conflict. Stepping on or exploiting people to become rich (or stay rich) can also contribute to ugly feelings within.
As well, using money to distract yourself from bad feelings and using money to avoid having to confront intrapersonal issues is most likely going to result in psychological difficulties down the road.
Finally, having wealth freely given to you without having to work for it or achieve it yourself can cause lower self-esteem as well as displays of narcissistic superficial behavior in an attempt to cover up a lack of character. Low self-esteem and narcissistic tendencies can be predictors of depression. I would argue that both overly-privileged kids and gold diggers are more at risk of eventually developing depression, once they can no longer keep buying distractions fast enough and their psyches catch up with them
People who independently went from being poor to becoming rich through hard work and perseverance are probably happy and fulfilled people; they’ve earned their destiny and can now fully appreciate and relish the fruits of their labor. Their children may be another story though.
In the end, it all comes down to this:
What is the ultimate objective of life?
Is it to have the most amount of money possible?
Or is it to experience the most amount of happiness possible?
When comparing rich countries to “developing” countries, it’s not too difficult to see that money and happiness don’t really go hand in hand.
James | MosaicWriting.com